If happiness lies in pleasure

Does success make you happy or does happiness make you successful?

The pursuit of success as a path to happiness is deeply anchored in our society. But does success really make you happy? And how do you become successful? Helena Pabst and Alexandra Gojowy from 7Mind are investigating these questions.

Many of us grow up wanting to be successful. With the vague idea of ​​a distant future in which we climbed the corporate ladder and achieved all of our goals. At first we don't question what exactly these goals are, what should be at the end of the career ladder and how we are doing on the way there. We have gathered insights from psychology and economics that provide exciting food for thought on the relationship between goals, success and happiness.

Goals: The gap between desire and reality

Goals can motivate us to lead an active, fulfilling life, to develop and to gain a sense of achievement. If we choose them correctly. If we aim too high, however, we inevitably generate frustration and dissatisfaction, as a new study empirically shows.

In an extensive study on the subject of life satisfaction, the Italian economists Marco Bertoni and Luca Corazzini examined the connection between two questions: “How satisfied are you currently with your life overall?” And: "How satisfied do you think you will be in five years?" They were based on the “Socio-Economic Panel” of the German Institute for Economic Research, an extensive annual survey with over 20,000 participants.

Over a period of twelve years, the scientists gathered knowledge about the successes and disappointments of the respondents. Result: People who do not meet their own expectations and goals are significantly more dissatisfied. According to Bertoni and Corazzini, it is the gap between desire and reality that makes you dissatisfied. But even “successful” people are not satisfied in the long run, according to the researchers. Because the joy of the goals achieved does not last long. As soon as something is achieved, we set ourselves new, even higher goals. The so-called reference point shifts and new dissatisfaction arises. Desire and reality are once again apart - an effect that sociologists refer to as “self-discrepancy”.

Ultimately, the researchers identified a very simple formula for a content life in their study: “Do not set yourself unattainable goals. Don't hang the bar too high. "

Why we work

“Professional success isn't everything,” adds Bertoni. But isn't a fulfilling professional life an important factor for a happy life? Absolutely. But for this “work has to be rethought”, as the psychologist Barry Schwartz explains in his book “Why we work”.

Schwartz explains that our business world is still based on the ideas of classic economists like Adam Smith and Frederick Taylor - the forefathers of the division of labor and assembly line production. These thinkers assumed that people only work to make money. Without material incentives, they would do nothing, meaning or fulfillment played no role. This image of man was ultimately the basis for the division of labor, assembly line work and industrialization. Instead of making an entire product, workers only performed repetitive steps in the chain to maximize productivity. Principles that shape our professional world to this day.

The assumption that people only work for the sake of making money has ultimately led to a world of work in which activities are so decoupled from their purpose that people can actually only motivate themselves through money - a “self-fulfilling prophecy”. Out of the idea that human nature is designed for success and profit, a system was created that puts money and rewards in the foreground, says Schwartz. As a result, almost 90 percent of people are frustrated with their work. This is the result of a study by the Gallup survey of 25 million employees in 189 countries.

But at a time when “Generation Y” is taking over the professional world, money alone no longer functions as a motivator. Intangible values ​​such as meaning, joy, personal development and interpersonal relationships play an increasingly important role in the choice of employer. A development that poses great challenges to the tried and tested principles of business life, because most employers still operate according to the maxims of efficiency and monetary incentives. For Schwartz, however, this rethinking is essential. Because, according to his findings, immaterial values ​​play a much greater role in job satisfaction and happiness than material ones.

What makes us really happy

In the longest-running study to date on the subject of happiness, scientists from Harvard University accompanied the participants for more than 75 years to investigate what makes a healthy and happy life. Even John F. Kennedy was among the participants in the study, which began in 1930 with 268 male subjects.

Unsurprisingly, most of them stated at the beginning of the study that they were striving for money, success and fame. But not the richest, most successful and most famous participants were ultimately the most satisfied. A completely different, unexpected factor played the biggest role: the relationships with other people. It wasn't about the amount or type of relationships - whether married or single - but only about the quality of the relationship. The happiest were those who had close, positive relationships in their lives. According to the researchers, a single really close friend can contribute more to happiness and health than exercise, nutrition or prosperity.

Why happiness makes you successful - and not the other way around

Realistic goals, meaningful work and close relationships are therefore crucial for a contented life. But what about the success now? Does that mean we all have to be happy losers?

No. Fortunately, with the usual chain of “hard work - success - luck” we are sitting on a mistake, as Shawn Achor, happiness researcher with a degree from Harvard University, explains. A brain in a positive state works much better, he was able to prove in studies. That is, intelligence, creativity and energy levels increase significantly in happy people. “In a positive state, the brain is 31 percent more productive. Salespeople increase their performance by 37 percent. Doctors work 19 percent faster and more accurately when their brain is in a positive state, ”said Achor.

In a world in which the “hard” work possible is seen as a prerequisite for success, status and happiness, most of us cannot access our full capacities at all. Because we are not in a positive mood about this work. “Every time the brain records a success, the bar is raised higher: You got good grades, now you have to get better grades. You have achieved your sales goals, now they're increasing, ”says Achor. The above-mentioned ambitious goals stand in the way not only of satisfaction, but also of performance. “When luck is on the other side of success, the brain will never get there. We as a society have pushed happiness beyond our spiritual horizon because we believe that to be happy we have to be successful. However, our brain works the other way around. "

Achor mentions a classic mindfulness exercise as a way of reprogramming the brain: three good things. If you write down three things that were particularly positive on that day for 21 days in a row, you can train your brain to perceive the positive more strongly. And thus increase performance and satisfaction at the same time.